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 Sri Lanka, an anchor destination for new Indian Ocean cruise

A new Indian Ocean cruise is due to open this winter, ferrying passengers to Sri Lanka's main port of Colombo, targeting some 4,000 up market tourists from German speaking countries, officials said. 

Mooted by FTI Group, a German tour operator, the 206-cabin cruise liner carrying some 400 passengers, will sail to Muscat, Mumbai, Goa and Kochi over a four-month period.

Priced at 1,300 euros per person, passengers have the option of joining the cruise liner in either Dubai or Colombo, FTI director Lal Wijesinghe told reporters in Colombo on Wednesday.

"Our customer profile is retired fairly wealthy German speaking clients from Germany, Austria and Switzerland looking for a two to three weeks’ vacation," said the Sri Lankan born Wijesinghe.

Passengers have the option of taking a holiday in Dubai or Colombo, touring local sites and experiencing the culture, before or after the 10-day cruise.

"We see this as a viable springboard to showcase Sri Lanka as a multi-faceted and internationally attractive destination," said Abbas Esufally, Chairman Diethelm Sri Lanka, FTI's local partner.

A leisure unit of Sri Lanka’s Hemas Holding PLC group, Diethelm recently signed up with FTI to attract more inbound tourists. Over the past five-years, FTI has brought some 45,000 tourists to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka moved into an online visa system in January, from a visa-on-arrival mechanism, but tourists in transit for up to 48 hours will not need a visa, said Sri Lanka’s immigration chief Chulananda Perera.  

Dubbed the German equivalent of the “Love Boat”, the FTI BERLIN will call/depart from Colombo’s commercial port between December and March 2013.

The cruise operators have no immediate plans to anchor at the southern port of Galle, though port authorities are developing it as base for leisure operations.

Instead, Wijesinghe said FTI was looking at berthing in the eastern seaport town of Trincomalee or the newly built port of Hambantota, off the island’s deep south.

Sri Lanka has set it's sights on attracting 2.5 million tourists by 2016, after experiencing a boom following the end of the near four decades-long ethnic conflict in May 2009.

Tourist arrivals hit a record 855,975 in 2011 and continue to grow after the government scrapped the visa-on-arrival system in January.

From January to March 2012, tourist arrivals have climbed 21.1 percent to 260,525 over the same period a year earlier, according to Sri Lanka Tourism figures.

During the summer months, FTI BERLIN sails the Mediterranean seas and the company has received around 80 percent booking for the coming season.

"We just started selling the winter schedule, and the response has been very encouraging," said Wijesinghe.

Famed for lush tea plantations growing in misty mountains and miles of golden beaches, tourism is Sri Lanka’s fifth largest foreign exchange earner, besides exports of clothes, tea and remittances.

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